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A First Apartment, With (Almost) Zero Waste

NEW YORK — Moving day for most New Yorkers involves stacks of boxes, reams of Bubble Wrap and rolls of packing tape, but Amanda Lindner was determined to avoid all of those commonly used supplies when she moved from Hamilton Heights to her first solo apartment in Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Brooklyn, this spring.

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Kim Velsey
, New York Times

NEW YORK — Moving day for most New Yorkers involves stacks of boxes, reams of Bubble Wrap and rolls of packing tape, but Amanda Lindner was determined to avoid all of those commonly used supplies when she moved from Hamilton Heights to her first solo apartment in Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Brooklyn, this spring.

Why? Because so much packing material winds up getting thrown out, and Lindner had started pursuing a zero-waste lifestyle a few months earlier, embracing the environmental movement that seeks to reduce the amount of garbage on the planet by changing people’s personal consumption habits.

By the time she was ready to move, Lindner had already made a number of lifestyle changes. She had stopped using plastic takeout containers (bringing reusable metal tins to restaurants instead), switched out her toothpaste for baking soda and started carrying around a metal water bottle and tote bag wherever she went.

“I care about a lot of issues, but I feel you can’t stand for anything if there’s not a planet to stand on,” said Lindner, 29, who works for Avodah, a Jewish social justice nonprofit organization. “There are so many things I can’t change as an individual, but I can do these small things every day.”

But moving and furnishing an apartment while sticking to her zero-waste guns has proved trickier than she expected.

Fortunately, Lindner, who had never lived with fewer than three people before renting her own one-bedroom, had only had a small bedroom’s worth of possessions to transport across the city.

She borrowed a minivan from her parents on Long Island and packed her belongings into suitcases, padding breakable items with towels and blankets. In the end, she conceded to using a few pieces of packing tape, which she grudgingly put into her “trash bin,” a quart-size Mason jar that still had space to spare four months into her zero-waste journey.

Furnishing her new apartment, however, was a challenge.

“I didn’t have any living room furniture,” Lindner said. “I didn’t even have a fork. I just had a bed and dresser.”

While she once would have gone to stores like Ikea and HomeGoods to get what she needed, now she browsed secondhand marketplaces, a far more time-consuming process. Anything she could not get used, like cleaning supplies and food receptacles, had to be sustainable — that is, either compostable or recyclable.

“I have since become an expert thrifter,” Lindner said. She has found furniture through Facebook marketplace, on Craigslist and at a sidewalk sale outside a storage unit. Perhaps her favorite find is a sofa that belonged to an uncle and reminds her of family gatherings.

“One of the challenges is that you have to be open to things, you can’t be too specific,” she said. “But it has been a really cool experience, because you get to talk to all these different people and peek into their lives and homes. And you have a connection to the piece of furniture then: It has a story and it adds to the character of your home.”

The most difficult thing, ultimately, was deciding whether or not to paint her apartment. When she moved in, the walls were a “dim peach tan.” She knew that the real zero-waste approach would be not to paint, but “I really wanted it to be brighter, and I decided that it’s not about perfection,” she said. “If you try to do that you’re going to get tripped up.”

Still, if she was going to paint she wanted to do it in the least wasteful way possible, so she scoured hardware stores for “oops” paint, cans of custom-mixed paint rejected by other customers because the colors were not quite right. She visited at least 10 stores, but failed to find enough paint in a color and finish she liked. After a final trip Big Reuse in Gowanus, Brooklyn, where she found leftover paint remixed into vibrant colors suitable for an accent wall, but not an entire apartment, she capitulated and went to a paint store.

She selected a paint and primer combo in sea-glass green and hired a professional painter from TaskRabbit so she would not have to buy equipment she would likely never use again. Afterward, she turned the paint can into her composting bucket, which she brings to the farmers market in Prospect Park every Saturday.

In many respects, living alone has made a zero-waste lifestyle easier to pursue, Lindner said. Although her roommates had been supportive — and she was always delighted when one of them would come home and tell her that she had refused a plastic straw, for example — the choice of which cleaning products and other shared goods to buy was not entirely up to her. And other things might be a hard sell: In her living room, she keeps a basket of clean hankies to use in lieu of tissues.

A zero-waste lifestyle, she has realized, is not for everyone. Her current grocery habits save her a considerable amount of money, she said, but involve schlepping large quantities of bulk goods home in reusable cloth bags a few times a month and bringing refillable cleaning bottles to the 4th Street Co-op in Manhattan.

“If I had a family, mobility issues or was working three part-time jobs, this would be difficult,” she said. “It’s a privilege to be able to do this, but because I have the ability to do it, I feel that I should.”

Initially, she was worried that her requests to fill reusable containers might annoy or burden others, but for the most part she has encountered only curiosity and encouragement.

Still, her parents were disappointed not to be able to buy her things for her first apartment, she said. Her mother begged her to at least get new pots and pans.

“I think it was really hard for them at first,” Lindner said. “But even my mom is going to thrift stores now instead of Macy’s.”


$1,600 | BROOKLYN
Amanda Lindner, 29, director of communications at Avodah, a Jewish social justice nonprofit
On living alone: “It is really nice to come back to a space that’s yours, that’s filled with things you picked out and love. It’s also really nice to not have to be in a queue with three other roommates to take a shower in the morning.”
Best secondhand shopping surprise: When the owner of the Lion’s Den, a Bushwick thrift shop, reupholstered an ottoman for her on the spot after she said she loved everything about it but the tan leather top.
On her zero-waste lifestyle: “It’s been a really fulfilling journey in a lot of ways. I feel more empowered. It’s OK to say no to trendy items or a disposable straw.”

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